Finding Peace in the Chaos

Don’t you love stock photos of teachers?

The teacher with every hair perfectly in place…her beautiful unwrinkled button-down shirt. Her glistening white smile. The beautiful chalkboard behind her. Her students sitting in spotless desks with their hands eagerly outstretched, waiting patiently for their turn to talk.

It always looks so calm and peaceful. It doesn’t look like me or my classroom.

My hair is thrown back in a messy bun because I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore. My shirt is covered in pen marks and fruit cocktail juice (from tearing off those plastic coverings on fruit cups at lunch). I choose to not look at the desks because they give me nightmares. My whiteboard is covered with marker residue, and I have forgotten to change the date at the top again. And the kid with the eagerly outstretched hand…he is already talking and just about falling out of his seat from waving it.

Some days, it’s just a little bit of chaos.

Maybe your classroom is never chaotic – you and your students really do look like those stock photos (you are my hero! Come help me, please!). But the chaos in your life comes from elsewhere – a diagnosis, a failing relationship, financial stress, a breaking heart over a wandering child.

God’s Word has so many examples of people whose lives are in chaos – men and women just like us who feel like they are spinning out of control. Yet many of these men and women still found joy and peace amidst the storms raging around them.

One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is the story of the disciples being tossed around in a boat during a great storm. They are probably struggling to hold on as the winds whip them around. The waves keep pounding their little boat, and soon the water is pouring in and filling up. They are panicked. They are freaking out as they bail water. They are doing everything they know how to do to try and save themselves.

And through it all, Jesus is right there with them…asleep.

The disciples rush over to wake Him up and the accusations fly out of their mouths before they can stop them.

Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?

Oh, the cry of the overwhelmed soul! My heart knows it so well!

Lord, don’t you care that I just lost my teaching position and have to find a new one within a few months?

Lord, don’t you care that I am trying to juggle the demands of teaching with caring for a failing parent?

Lord, don’t you care that I am serving you but struggling to pay the bills?

Lord, don’t you care that I love children but can’t seem to have any of my own?

Lord, don’t you care that a loved one was just diagnosed with cancer?

Lord, don’t you care about the loneliness I feel?

Lord, don’t you care?

And as my heart cries out, the storm keeps raging around me…the water level keeps growing, and the wind threatens to knock me over.

Then, His voice slices through the storm.

Peace, be still.

Instantly the storm ceases.

Imagine the relief of the disciples – one minute they are bailing out water and saying their last prayers, and the next moment the sea is perfectly calm.

Jesus turns to them and lovingly confronts them,

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

You see, the circumstances had changed for the disciples…but one thing had not changed, and that was their Savior. Christ cut right to the heart of the matter – His disciples were panicking because of a lack of faith. Their gaze was on the storm…not their Savior.

Lack of peace stems from a lack of  faith and focus.

They were never going through that storm alone. Through it all, Christ was right there with His disciples. Yes, for awhile, He was silent…but He was still right there, and He knew exactly what was going on. He brought the disciples to the end of themselves so that He could direct their focus to where it should have been the entire time.

The disciples forgot (or did not truly know, based on their later response) who was in the boat with them.

The secret to peace in the midst of storms is remembering who is in the boat with you. 

God lovingly and ever so carefully brings us through storms to grow us closer to Him. No gust of wind or wave can break over your ship without Him knowing and allowing it. No storm is faced on your own. In fact, He has already successfully faced every storm that you will ever come up against and is waiting to help you to do the same.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Dear friend, whatever you are facing…you are facing it with Christ right by your side. He is growing your faith by bringing you to the point where you can do nothing else but turn to Him. He wants you to get to know who He is.

If the disciples truly had realized who was in the boat with them, they would have realized that He was…

  • The Creator of all (Ps. 136:5-9, Ps. 95:4-6, Ps. 100:3)
  • Sovereign (Is. 55:8-9, Ps. 115:3, Ps. 138:8)
  • All-powerful (Jer. 32:17, Ps. 147:5)
  • Loving (Ps. 94:18-19,Is. 54:7-10, Rom. 8:35, Jer. 31:3, Ps. 117:2)

In your storm, turn your gaze to whom your God is. Remind yourself of His promises. Cling to His character. Your chaos is not too much for Him to handle.

Peace, just like joy, is not a feeling that depends on circumstances. It’s a fruit that the Spirit grows in our lives as we get to know our God more and more.  Run to Him – knowing Him is the true and only source of lasting peace!

A few of my favorite resources if you are facing your own storm…

*Please note that I do not necessarily endorse every aspect of the above resources, but they are ones that I have personally found to be helpful for me!

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The Joyful Teacher

 

Have you ever met a Christian who just doesn’t seem very happy?

I mean, they always seem to walk around with a perpetual scowl on their faces.

As you stand in the pew behind them at church, you observe them singing “there is joy, joy, joy in serving Jesus”…but if that’s what their joy looks like, you would hate to see what they would look like if their dog died.

It seems kind of strange that someone who has had an unimaginable debt paid off by God’s Son, has been welcomed into the family of God, and has Heaven to look forward to one day…isn’t very happy.

As Christian teachers, we need to especially be sensitive to the fact that dozens – perhaps hundreds of pairs of young and easily influenced eyes are watching us from “the pew behind”.  And whether they realize it or not, those students are making their own evaluations of Christianity based on what they are seeing. If they observe Christians who are never happy, who are always grumbling over finances, administration, difficult students…why would they want to have that? 

If that’s the “joy in serving Jesus”, they are pretty sure they would get more joy working on Wall Street or being a professional football player…or even flipping burgers, for that matter. All those people certainly look happier than the Christians that they know.

 

According to the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, joy should be one of the hallmarks of a Christian’s life. A lack of joy is a glaring “check engine light” that something in our spiritual walk is not right. It is important to note that the Fruit of the Spirit is a work of the Holy Spirit in my life and not something that I can cultivate on my own. My job is cultivate the soil for the Spirit to work by spending time with God in His Word, prayer, and the fellowship of other believers.

 

  1. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances because it depends on the presence of God.

The joy mentioned in Galatians 5 is so much more than a feeling or an emotion. This joy doesn’t depend on circumstances – we can have this type of joy after a super rough day in the classroom or a terrible parent-teacher conference. No, I am not saying that we need to keep a fake smile plastered to our face in the midst of everything going wrong…our kids know the difference between genuine joy and “faking-it”. However, joy does mean that even on the worst days, I remember that I am a child of the King. God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for me…and He is not going to leave me alone to figure the rest of this life out (Phil. 1:6). 

That joy can look different depending on the days. Some days, by God’s grace,  it will be a genuine smile despite the difficulties you’re facing. Other days it may look like being transparent with your students in your disappointments, but then using the opportunity to point all of your hearts back to the promises of Scripture (of course, always use discernment when sharing personal stuff!).

I love this passage from Habakkuk where the prophet says…

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s, he makes me tread on high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk is basically saying that even if the worst happens (no food, no form of livelihood…NOTHING), He can rejoice because he has Christ. And isn’t Christ enough?

As teachers, can we say the same thing?

Hab3.17.19

Maybe you are in a tough time right now – you were let go from your position, you have a difficult summer job, you are moving to a new school, or there are problems with loved ones close to you.

Remember, in all of this – YOU HAVE CHRIST and He alone is the true source of joy! When we believe that a certain relationship, job, opportunity, hobby, etc. will bring us joy, we are being deceived. That longed for opportunity may bring happiness temporarily…but that’s it. Once we get that, we’ll want something else. It’s the good old “if-you-only-get-me-this-for-Christmas-I-won’t-ask-for-anything-more” syndrome. Have you ever heard that with your kids (or been guilty of saying it yourself?)? Your child may have genuinely been convinced that this toy was all that they would ever want in life…but it doesn’t take long (24 hours? A few days?) before they are wanting something more.  That’s because God created us to only find true joy and satisfaction in Him.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11, emphasis added)

So if you are struggling in the joy department, listen to the warning signs and check your heart – where is it that you are searching for joy apart from Christ?

2. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances because it depends on the promises of God

 

Of course, God’s presence is one of His promises and we could pretty must just park it right there and call it a day. But wait, there’s more!! Scripture is filled with some of His very specific and precious promises to us. When you’re struggling with joy, write these verses down on index cards and post them around your home and workplace. Memorize them. Every time Satan tries to steal your joy, throw him a few of these!

I can’t be joyful because…

  • I am uncertain about the future (Rom. 8:28-29, Matthew 6:25-34, Joshua 1:9)
  • I am in a series of difficult circumstances right now (II Cor. 12:9, Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • I am facing something impossible (Jer. 32:27, Job 37:5, II Cor. 9:8, Eph. 3:20)
  • I have messed up too badly for God to use me (I John 1:9, Ps. 32:5, Ps. 86:5, Is. 1:18)

Armed with the presence and promises of God, what can steal our joy from us?

So, do you show to your students that there is indeed joy in serving Jesus?

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Dear Worn-Out, Run-Down, Absolutely Exhausted Teacher

Dear Worn-Out, Run-Down, Absolutely Exhausted Teacher,
Wow – you have almost made it! It is May and the countdown has begun! I know you are tired – deep down to your toes tired. And no wonder! For the past nine months you have poured yourself into your students. By God’s grace you have loved them. You have prayed for them. You have shouldered their burdens. You have cried for them. You have rejoiced with them. You have encouraged them. You have counseled them…and oh, yes – you’ve also taught them English or Math somewhere along the way.
You’re probably sick after your body has finally surrendered to the germs it has been battling all year long.
Even though you are exhausted, you’re probably not sleeping well because of the gazillion school-related thoughts and to-do lists going through your head at night.
You’re stressed when you look at all the curriculum and special events that need to be crammed into the next few weeks.
Your patience is wearing thin – it seems like you have been dealing with some of the same behavior and discipline problems for the entire nine months. Your kids have spring fever and all of those classroom management routines and academic skills you have drilled into them seem to have vanished.
You are discouraged. You haven’t reached them all. You look out at the sea of faces and see the one student you felt like you could never connect with. You see the student who has hardened their heart towards God. You see the student who may fail and need summer school. You feel like you have failed.
You feel like it is taking everything in you to drag yourself across the finish line of the school year.
But God’s not done with you, yet.
When you are tired, you are extra vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. He would love to see you fizzle out at the end of the year – just focusing on enduring the final days instead of thriving.He would love to see you stop leaning on the love and power of God that has been sustaining you all year long.
Don’t let him.
I can guarantee that you can’t finish this year well in your own strength, but you don’t have to. Finish this year strong, relying on God’s strength. In all of the busyness and exhaustion, cling so closely to your God. Spend a little extra time in prayer and His Word. Keep your gaze firmly fixed on Him and all that He has done this year.
Instead of focusing on how far your students still have to go, take a moment to realize how far they have come.
Instead of focusing on how you have failed this year, take a moment to see the moments of God’s grace in your classroom. You weren’t a perfect teacher – there’s no such thing. You probably did fail in some areas this year (in fact, I can guarantee it!), but remember that God delights in using broken things to accomplish His purposes. God chose you to be the teacher for your class this year – He didn’t make a mistake. You were where you were exactly when you were supposed to be there. He wanted to use you to teach them…and He wanted to use them to teach you. Look for the moments of His grace and spend time thanking Him for them instead of wallowing in where you feel that you failed.
In the stressful and overwhelming days yet to come, don’t forget your students. Don’t get so wrapped up in rushing through curriculum and packing things up that you fail to really enjoy your last few days with them. Stop running around for a minute and just observe them. Relish the joy on their faces as they tell you a story. Delight in the smiles and laughter they share with their friends. Look back at their pictures from the beginning of the year and see how much they have grown up. Have times where you put aside your to-do list and just love your kiddos for these final days. Use these days to direct their eyes towards God and all He has accomplished this year.
Yes, you are tired. You feel like you are completely done.
But God’s not done.
He is still at work in you and your students.
Lean on His everlasting arms and finish the race strong.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Surely God is good!

Love,

A fellow worn-out, run-down, absolutely exhuasted teacher

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Instructing a Child’s Heart Review + Giveaway

Who is ready for a giveaway?! I firmly believe that you can never have too many books, so I am going to try to add one more to your resource library! 🙂

Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp is a tremendous resource for anyone who works with children! While written specifically for parents, there was sooooo much in here that I took away as a Christian teacher desiring to help her students grow in Christ. The Tripps’ goal is not to give a simple three-step method to change the behavior of a child.  It is all about using God’s principles to help form the hearts of our students. More than geared towards “fixing” our children, it challenges us as authorities to examine our motives and methods behind the way we teach our children.

Our objective when we teach our children is not simply to ensure…that our children are not criminals or that they “do well”. Rather, our desire is that they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind.  (Tedd & Margy Tripp)

Our goal is to help our students love and glorify God. How do we do this when they are bombarded with different “truths” on all sides of them?

They hear one thing from their friends.

They hear one thing from the media.

They hear yet another thing from their parents and teachers.

Then they hear things from God’s Word.

Whose instruction is winning out?

Throughout the book, the term “formative instruction” is used frequently. According to the Tripps, formative instruction is “teaching that ‘forms’ our children…[it] is ‘before the problem instruction’. Its focus is interpreting and responding to life in biblical ways.” Formative instruction is the the way that we weave the Gospel, Scripture, and our view of God into the daily moments that make up life.

I love the idea that we are constantly using this formative instruction to help our students build a biblical framework before trouble/discipline hits.Times of discipline can’t be the only times that we hit our students with Scripture. if we do that, they are very likely to resent Scripture! Also, the Tripps point out a truth that we know probably all too well…

We never do our best teaching when we are in a discipline situation…if we try to do our formative instruction in the context of corrective discipline, our focus will be too narrow. We will miss the big picture – the opportunity to teach a worldview.

Instructing a Child’s Heart is a book that will encourage and challenge you. Filled with Scripture and a focus on the Gospel and our great God, this book is a resource that will help you in journey as a teacher or parent.  It is a book that will help to refocus your gaze on God and how our view of God trickles down to our children.

Parenting [Teaching]that exhibits a vital relationship with God in all the joys and storms of life is irresistible to children and young people. Conversely, the surest way to harden our children’s hearts to God and his ways is “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim. 3:5)

Shepherd’s Press has graciously donated a copy of Instructing a Child’s Heart for a giveaway. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions expressed are my own. 

 

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Teaching Tough Students

We all have those students.

The ones who know exactly which of our buttons to push and seem to take great delight in pushing them!

The ones who moan and groan over every request we make of them.

The ones who stir up trouble among their classmates.

The ones who just never seem to obey.

And if you are like me, my patience can begin to wear thin.

The year goes on, and I get tired of dealing with the same issues again and again. Why can’t they just learn their lesson?

While dealing with a group of particularly difficult students one year, I was struck with the story of another person who had to lead a pretty tough group.  His name was Moses, and he had the opportunity to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness after being freed from slavery. Now, you need to know some things about this group of people…

They complained (A LOT).

They didn’t listen (A LOT).

They didn’t obey (A LOT).

They just couldn’t seem to learn their lesson (A LOT).

Sound like anyone you might know?  😉

Poor Moses. What a group! After seeing God provide for them again and again, the Israelites were again complaining because they were thirsty. They  were personally attacking Moses – why have you brought us out here to die? (sounds like my students in Math class!). So Moses went before the Lord with their complaint. God instructed him to speak to a rock and water would come out for the people.  So armed with the promise of God, Moses went before the Israelites at the rock…and directly disobeyed God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he took his staff and struck it. Water still came out despite his disobedience. The Israelites were happy…but God was not. What’s up?

Moses was frustrated with leading this rebellious people. He grew angry and lashed out. He got results, but he went about it completely in the wrong way.

I do the same thing. Many times I feel like I am figuratively “striking the rock” with my difficult students. I get frustrated. I grow impatient and angry. I let unkind  and harsh words fly out. And you know what? Sometimes there may be results. That tough student may shape up…but I have dishonored God in the process.

You know what is interesting? When God spoke with Moses about his sin, he didn’t specifically mention his anger. Anger wasn’t the problem – it was simply a symptom of something going on in Moses’ heart.

And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12)

God got right to the root – Moses was angry because he didn’t believe God.

I realized that my problem with these difficult students was not my impatience and anger. My real problem was that I wasn’t believing God.

  • That He was the one who had placed these students in my life (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • That He would give me the grace and patience to lead them (I Thess. 5:24)
  • That He is the one who could change their hearts…not me (Jer. 24:7, Ps. 51:10).
  • That He is enough for me…no matter what kind of students, the kind of day, or the kind of school year that I may be facing (Ps. 16:11).

When I don’t believe God’s promises and react wrongly to my difficult students, I have not glorified Him. I have not shown them the greatness of their God. I haven’t shown them a glimpse of His character. Even if they shape up and became a model student, if I have not showed God to them, I have failed. After all, the sole purpose of our life (which certainly includes our teaching, discipline, etc.) is to glorify God.

In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinedaccording to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-12).

 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).

Moses failed to believe God, and as a result, God was not glorified among His people. I don’t want to make the same mistake in my teaching!

So how can we make sure we aren’t “striking the rock” as Moses did?

  1. Stay in a close relationship with the Lord – stay in His Word and spend time in prayer. We can’t show our students someone that we don’t know very well.
  2. Memorize & meditate on God’s Promises – this goes along with #1. It’s hard to believe and depend on the promises of someone that we don’t know. What promises do you have trouble believing about God and His working in your life? Commit them to memory – write them on index cards and stick them around your home and classroom. When you are tempted to doubt, preach those verses right back to yourself.
  3. Remember God’s work in your own heart – how many times have I repeatedly disobeyed God? Over and over again in His Word, He tells me what to do. Over and over again, I choose to do my own thing and suffer the consequences. I repent and turn back to Him…and do it all over again. I’m a pretty slow learner. I’m not too different from my difficult students! Yet God has shown me such amazing love and grace! How can I not let that same love and grace spill over to my difficult students?

How about you? What characteristics or promises of God help you in dealing with challenging students?

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The Dangers of Good Kids

We all have our “good” kids.

The ones who are responsible, turn in their projects and homework on time, and get good grades.

The ones who never have to stand out minutes from recess, get demerits, or detentions.

The ones who don’t cause us much (if any!) trouble!

We are relieved to have these students in our classroom, because there are some others (ahem) who are quite the opposite. Those other students tend to take up a lot of our time and energy.

Our “good” kids can slide through the year, and we assume that they are doing just fine spiritually. It’s Johnny and his disrespectful attitude  or Janie and her rebellious heart that we are worried about.

But many times, our good kids need us to get involved in their lives just as much as the tough students need us.

Here are a few issues that can tend to affect these good kids.

Pride  & Hypocrisy

Some students take pride in their clean records. They look down on their classmates who are always getting in trouble or struggling with low grades. Many times this pride will become evident to others, but sometimes students (and teachers, too!) can hide it behind false humility.

Have you ever thought about the type of students the Pharisees would make? Talk about rule followers – these guys were champions! They had a loooooong list of rules and they pretty much followed them all to a “t” (and my students struggle with the 5 rules in my classroom!). The Pharisees were very religious and very proud of their accomplishments…but they didn’t have a heart for God. Christ had some hard-to-hear words for these religious leaders of his day.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28)

We need to be so careful as teachers that we don’t emphasize outward keeping rules over a relationship with God. Now, the two aren’t exclusive – after all, God does say, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). But following God’s commands should stem from a love for Him…it’s not about obeying commands just for the sake of following the rules. With the help of the Lord, we should always seek the hearts of our students and not just what is seen on the outside.

For these students, we need to lovingly show them God’s view of pride.

Pride and arrogance and the way of evil  and perverted speech I hate (Prov. 8:13b)

 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

But we also need to show them the greatness of their God! Only when we see God as He really is can we see ourselves as we truly are. Help them to see His forgiveness of their sin and His grace that gives them the gifts that they have.  When I am focusing on all that I have been forgiven of, I don’t have time to look at all the things that others need to be forgiven of.

Love of Approval

I have always been more of a rule-keeping “good girl” – and many times I did really want to please the Lord. But I also loved the approval of others. When I obeyed, I found out that life worked out pretty well. I would look at the other kids in my class who were getting in trouble, and I just didn’t get it. It seemed so simple – just obey the rules and you won’t get into trouble!

Yet, I had my own idol to deal with – the idol of approval. Oh, how I craved it (and still do!). But I should not be controlled by what others think about me – I need to be controlled by God’s love for me. I need to live for Him, not for others.

 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Cor. 5:14-15)

When I had the opportunity to work with some inmates in a detention center, I realized that this “squeaky-clean” church girl had a lot more in common with these inmates than I would ever have thought. Some of them were in there because they wanted the approval of others and so they______________ (fill in the blank). We shared the exact same idols in our hearts – they just manifested themselves differently in the circumstances we found ourselves in.

Performance Treadmill

In his book, Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges uses the term “the performance treadmill” to describe the idea of the desperate, continual working to gain God’s acceptance instead of realizing that God’s acceptance is not based on our work.

Some of our good kids genuinely do have a heart for the Lord, but they don’t have an accurate understanding of God.

Perhaps some are trying to earn their salvation – for these students, we need to show them Scripture that helps them to see that their good works do nothing towards salvation. We can only be saved through placing our faith in Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Is. 64:6)

Some students have accepted the Lord as their Savior, but they are trying to earn God’s approval and acceptance – even though it has already been given to them at salvation! They keep all the rules because they want to impress God,  or they feel that God will love them more the better they are.

Jerry Bridges uses the example of the disciple Peter to help us see God’s unconditional love. Peter had some pretty big failures in his life – but God still loved and blessed him despite his failures.

God blessed Peter, not in spite of his sins, but without regard to his sins. That’s the way His grace operates. It looks not to our sins or even to our good deeds but only to the merit of Christ. (Jerry Bridges)

We need to help these students see that God’s love for us is not dependent on our performance. It is unconditional!

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have continued my faithfulness to you (Jer. 31:3b)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

As teachers, do we show God’s unconditional love to our students? Or does our love/treatment  of them depend on how their day is going? One thing that I have implemented this year is giving each of my elementary students a hug or a handshake (their choice) at the end of the day before they leave the classroom. My hope is that this  small gesture can help to show them that no matter how their day went, I still love them.

Discouragement

Some students don’t fall into the above categories – they genuinely do want to serve the Lord and are seeking to live lives that are honoring to Him. They understand God’s unconditional love.

But it’s hard to be the “goody-two-shoes”. It’s hard to always be standing up for what’s right and being laughed at or left out. They may not vocalize it or show it, but we need to encourage them! Find little times to share a smile or an “I’m really proud of you…”

Drop a quick note to them – who doesn’t love getting mail or discovering a note tucked inside of their desk?

 

Just because our good kids are the “easy” kids in the class doesn’t mean that they don’t need help, too! May the Lord help us reach all of our students!

What other struggles do you see pop up in the lives of your good kids? How do you find is the best way to approach and help them?

 

A few of my favorite resources…

Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges – an amazing book that really helped me in the area of working so hard to gain God’s approval.

Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs  by Phil Vischer – This is probably one of my favorite books to read aloud to an elementary class. It deals with both types of students – the students who struggle to obey all of the rules and the students who find it easy to follow the rules and pride themselves on their achievements…and shows them that God doesn’t love them based on what they do – He just loves them.

 

 

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It’s Okay to Just Say “No”

Teachers have big hearts.

We love to serve others.

We love to jump in and help.

That’s why we are teachers. But what happens when that desire to serve almost crushes us under the weight of many obligations that we have voluntarily put ourselves under? Extra activities and responsibilities at school, church ministry opportunities, and family obligations can threaten to topple us over.

It might be time to learn how to say “no.”

This is a skill that I am currently working on learning 🙂 It’s such a small word but soooo hard to say! When a request comes your way,  learn to not answer right away. It’s okay to say, “can I get back to you on that?” . That will give you time to think through it, pray about it, and seek counsel. As you look at the opportunity, here are a few principles to keep in mind.

Check your motives 

When I am approached with a request, what is my motivation in accepting (or rejecting) it? Many times my motivation lies in  my pride. I am naturally a people pleaser. I love for everyone around me to be happy, and especially for them to be happy with me. Saying “yes” to something makes people smile at me – they thank me. They think that I am wonderful. And I feel wonderful…until I realize what I just got myself into.

True confession – I have recently been looking at the many different things that I am involved in and was feeling overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough time to do everything and to do it well.  I began working on how to let the leader of our public school Bible club  know that I would need to step down for next year. That very day, as I was thinking about how best to talk to her and explain my reasons…a few of us (including the leader) were discussing the idea of having some of our high schoolers create some wordless books for the kids, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, I was volunteering to take on that new project including getting permission from administration and parents. I climbed into my car, shell-shocked at how I had planned on giving something up – only to take on an additional responsibility! Yet, I had no one to blame but myself – I wanted everyone to be happy so I said “yes”.

If the only reason you are not saying “no”  is because you don’t want to displease someone, that should at least make you stop and take some time to think through your decision!

Another thing to check is your view of God. Sometimes I say “yes” to new ministries because I have a wrong view of God. I should be serving Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me – yet sometimes I find myself slipping into the thoughts of trying to impress God or earn His love and approval. But just as I was saved by grace and not by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), I also live by grace. God loves me the same no matter what I do!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Check your priorities

So maybe you have checked your motives and they are honestly good – you really just want to serve God or others in this way. Does that mean you should say “yes”? Well, not necessarily!

There are many genuine needs that I feel burdened to help out with…but I can’t do them all. How do I decide what to say “yes” to and what to politely decline? It can help to sit down and decide your priorities.

  1. Your relationship with the Lord – this must be first. It can be easy to get so busy serving God that we neglect to build our relationship with Him through quiet time in prayer and His Word. If I say “yes”, will this new responsibility hinder my time and energy to spend with Lord? Martha learned this – she was working so hard for the Lord, yet her service became a distraction. 

    And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:39-40A).  

  2. Your Family – I grew up as a missionary kid, and I am so thankful that I got to see the way my parents lived this out. Your family is your first ministry – not your students. If you say “yes”, how will that affect your family?

After those two priorities, you will have to finish the list on your own 😉 ! Involvement in your local church should be high on the list (Hebrew 10:25), taking care of yourself by having the time to eat right and exercise (I Cor. 6:19), and your students should also be somewhere on that list. Ask yourself – if you say “yes” to this new opportunity, what will you have to say “no” to in order to make it work? At this point of my life, my students are my main ministry. For me, I ultimately had to make the decision to say “no” to the Bible club ministry because I saw that it was draining time and energy away from my own students. Also,  in doing everything, I was not doing anything really well – just keeping my head above water.

Also a quick note here on priorities – you need to have some time to take care of yourself and recharge.  Just because there are 24 hours in the day and 7 days in a week, you don’t have you use up every single one! Now, we have to be careful here – there is a balance between hoarding our time for pleasure and realizing that we honestly do need to take time to recharge. God did not design us to run continuously – even Jesus had several times on earth where He went away from the crowds to rest and recharge. If the Son of God needed to rest during His time here on earth, so do we!

Keep a Servant’s Heart

It is okay to say “no”. But it is not okay to do it without a willing heart. Here’s what I mean – a servant’s heart is not quick to say “no” – it hears the person out and gives thoughtful consideration to what they are asking. A servant’s heart does not keep score of its service and smugly review it while looking down on others’ lack of service. A servant’s heart does not complain about all that it already has to do. A servant’s heart is not defensive. It is a heart that is willing to serve however God calls, but it humbly realizes that it can’t do everything.

If you have prayed through the decision and feel that it is not something that you can undertake right now, be honest with the person who asked you. Kindly explain to them, “You know what, I really appreciate your asking me to volunteer, but right now I am really focusing on my ministry to my students. I feel that if I helped out here, I wouldn’t have the time/energy/etc. that I really need to give to them. Thanks so much for thinking of me!”

If you really feel burdened to help – get creative! Perhaps there is another less time-consuming way that  that you could help (i.e. instead of teaching AWANAS every week, you can make cookies once a month or once every other month for it.) For me, with the Bible club ministry, I offered to substitute occasionally.

Finally, remember this: if you have prayed through this decision, you do not need to feel guilty. Live for an audience of One – if your decision is what you believe will best glorify God, then you don’t need to worry about the approval of others!

Alright, everyone, let’s practice saying it together -“Noooo….”

 

 

 

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The Comparison Game

I wish I had her class.

I wish I taught at that school.

I wish I was as creative a she is…

The comparison game – played by many of us, and won by none of us. How quick I am to look at your personality, your classroom, your life, and immediately place my own personality, classroom, and life side by side with yours. I want to know how I measure up. I want to know my value in relationship to yours.

See, the comparison game is quite a dangerous game. It never ends well! When I play it, I typically fall in one of two ways…and they both involve me losing!

Comparison is the thief of joy. (Theodore Roosevelt)

1. Envy & Self-pity

I look at your life, the students you have, the teaching abilities you have, and I want them instead of what I have.  I begin to think in if only’s…

  • If only I had your high achieving, well-behaved class…
  • If only I had the supportive parents you have….
  • If only I had your personality as a teacher…
  • If only I had your sense of humor…
  • If only I had your ability to lead…

But the if only’s offer a dangerous lie – that if only I had what you had, I could be happy. Any time that I look for my joy outside of Christ, I am treading on dangerous ground.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

God gave you your class, your abilities, and your life. He gave me mine – and I can be content with what I have because He promises His presence. Maybe He has given me a load that appears more difficult than yours, but He promises His grace to help me bear what He has given me (II Cor. 12:9).

Contentment comes when I find my value in Christ and not in how I measure up to you. If I am His child, I am loved and accepted the way I am – warts and all! Christ knew my sinfulness and weakness, but He still chose to save me. If I cannot find contentment and security in Him, I will never find it!

This is not to say that I shouldn’t learn from you and your strengths – but instead of envying your abilities, I should be thankful for them. I should let you know that. I should ask for suggestions in improving. But I should not envy you. I can be thankful that God blessed me with areas I need to grow in…if I was perfect, I wouldn’t need to depend on Him. (If you struggle with perfectionism, please check out what I wrote here).  I can be thankful that as a body of Christ, God has given us different abilities and jobs. One of us is is not more important than another member – we are all working together to bring glory to God (I Cor. 12:12-26).

2. Pride & Self-sufficiency

This is my response when I compare myself with you and find that I am “better”. I become proud that I would never talk to a student that way. I am proud that can get my students to behave in the hallway or lunchroom. I am proud that even though I may not be the best teacher, at least I am better than you. 

But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (II Corinthians 10:12b)

My pride shows my foolishness. If I have abilities or good circumstances, why would I think that am responsible for them? Yes, I have probably had to work hard to develop a good classroom management system or develop creative lessons…but if it weren’t for God, would I be able to do any of it? Isn’t God the One who gave me my gifts and talents? I may have honed them, but I can’t develop what I don’t have to begin with!

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Corinthians. 4:7)

And just as the if only’s, my pride also puts me on dangerous ground. I am finding my value and joy in accomplishments instead of Christ…and what’s worse, I am taking His credit for it!

So, how do you stop playing the comparison game? Start a new game – a  game of gratitude! When you are tempted to start comparing yourself to someone else, stop. Begin praying and thanking the Lord for what He has given you – be specific! Gratitude solves both problems – I can’t be envious and full of self-pity when I see all that God has blessed me with. I also can’t be proud because I realize that God has blessed me with all that I have. Find your joy in Christ alone – nothing else will satisfy!

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Truth for Tired Teachers

It’s the final long stretch for many of us…the mad dash to the end of the year (or maybe you are like me, and you’re just trying to crawl on hands and knees to get to spring break!). It’s the last quarter of the game, and we’re exhausted. Our kids are exhausted. Yet, somehow we have to finish the game strong. Standardized tests loom ahead, the amount of curriculum to be covered by then is overwhelming, and discipline issues are setting in as spring fever rises. It’s at times like this that it is especially important to focus on truth. Our thoughts can quickly spiral out of control as we begin to dwell on all of the negatives. But Christ tells us what our thoughts should be centered on –

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

So let me share some truths that God is reminding me of in this season of the school year!

When you are doing your work for Christ, it matters!

Sometimes we can get discouraged when we see all of the time and energy that we are putting into our ministry…and not getting to see many immediate results for it. Christ promises that when we are serving Him, even the most mundane tasks are investments in His Kingdom.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (I Cor. 15:58)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt 10:42)

You don’t have to do this in your own strength!

It has been said that”God never gives you more than you can handle.” While that phrase is well-meaning, I don’t believe that it is biblical. Over and over again in Scripture, God gives people way more than they handle (David & Goliath, Queen Esther, Joseph being sold into slavery away from his family – just to name a few).  I believe that He gives us more than we can handle…because then we have to rely on Him and not ourselves. Those heroes of the faith are not heroes because they were so amazing…they had a God who was amazing! And we serve the same God today!

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (I Thess. 5:24)

This is my go-to verse for everything – God is the One who called me to be a teacher, and He is going to be faithful to accomplish His purpose.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Cor. 12:9)

God is using the difficulties you are facing for your good. 

That tough student, that discipline situation that is weighing heavily on you, that set of parents that you are struggling with, the requirements of your district that you can’t keep up with — all of these are circumstances that God has allowed in your life. They are there for a reason, and Romans 8:29 tells us what that reason is – to conform us to the image of Christ that so He might be glorified.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:28-29)

Another favorite passage to go to when I am feeling tired or overwhelmed with circumstances is Hebrews 12 – it comes right after the “Hall of Faith”, a chapter of people remembered for their faith in God. Chapter 12 tells us the secret to enduring the way that they did – keeping our eyes focused on Christ and realizing that He has a purpose in the discipline (training) He is taking us through.

You are loved no matter what.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin (see here), you are a beloved child of God. No matter how terrible your lesson went that day, no matter how you feel that you may have failed a student, parent, or administration, God loves you. He doesn’t love you any more on your good days than your bad days – His love for you is based on His character, not your performance. He just loves you because that is who He is!

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (Ps. 139:16-18)

God knew that you were going to come up against this tough day even before you were born. He knows every day that He has planned for you, and this is one of them. Psalms 139 is just an amazing psalm – if you are feeling down or lonely, just spend some time meditating on this precious chapter of the Bible!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [that includes our own selves!] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28-29)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-31)

God loved us so much that He gave up His Son to die for us when we were His enemies (Col. 1:21). If He loved you enough to do that  while you were His enemy, will He not love and take care of you as His own child?

So as we push through these final months, keep your mind centered on truth – you are not facing these tough times alone. God sees and knows all that you are facing, but He wants to use these times to draw you closer to Himself. When you are tired, turn to Him and His Word!

How about you? What are your favorite verses and truths to meditate on when you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, or discouraged?

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Speaking Grace to our Students

I couldn’t help but laugh at this image I found floating around on the internet…because as a teacher, I feel like this sometimes!

You start out the day with great intentions, but it doesn’t take long before you start getting short with your students. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep last night, maybe you are dealing with some outside circumstances or stresses, maybe the day’s schedule got changed and the kids are just going crazy .  But whatever is going on, it’s not a good day. By the time that last bell rings, you have been impatient with many of your students and even called some of them out unkindly.

What is up with that? I mean, you love them, right (you may not feel like you love them right now, but you know that you ultimately do!)? So why do these words fly out of your mouth? Some teachers are notorious for yelling at their kids, but sometimes our unkind speech can be more subtle – a little one-liner here, speaking harshly in a moment of discipline, an impatient response, calling them out in front of the whole class, and other similar words of unkindness.

Words that put them down in front of their friends.

Words that embarrass them.

Words that hurt them.

Words that don’t look anything like Christ.

As Christians, the way that we speak to our students should look very different from the unsaved teacher down the hallway.

When we find ourselves struggling in our speech towards our students, we first need to see where these words are coming from…and I’ll give you a hint – it really doesn’t have anything to do with our students!

The Bible clearly tells us that our words come from our heart – every word we say is indicative of what is in our hearts. Our tongue can often be the “check engine light” – yes, those words coming out aren’t good, but they are signaling a much deeper problem. Our students merely help us to see what is in our hearts.

“…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

But there is hope! See, if the problems with our speech stem from what others (namely, our students) are doing to us, we don’t have much hope of fixing it. We are giving up and admitting that others have the ability to make us sin. If our students are having a good day, we’ll have a good day! If they are having a bad day, we are forced to also have a bad day. However, if the problem is with my own heart, Christ has the answer for that!

He died so that I would not have be enslaved to my selfish and impatient heart.  He has set me free from its control! Now, He lives inside of me and is working to produce His character in my life.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Words that look like Christ come from a heart that seeks Christ- a heart that desires to please Him and point others towards Him more than it wants its own desires. I can’t just put on loving, patient, and gentle speech…I first have to deal with the heart that is producing the unkind and impatient words.

I need to search my heart and see what it is that I want more than obeying God’s command to love others with my words.  I need to confess it to Him and ask for His help. If I lose my temper or say something unkind to a student, I need to have the humility to call them aside later and apologize (and no excuses – “Well, I should not have said that, but if you wouldn’t have…”). We can be tempted to think that this will make our students lose their respect for us – but have you ever had an authority in your life apologize to you? Chances are that increased your respect for them, not lowered it!

Once I have dealt with my heart, I can begin to replace that old speech with words that look like Christ, and of course, Christ has the answer yet again!

 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)

Instead of using words that can tear down our students, let’s look for ways to speak grace to them, to build them up and encourage them. I have been challenged to be more proactive in doing this by really focusing in on 1-2 students a day and going out of my way to deliberately and specifically build them up with my words – look for the little things  to praise them for, encourage them when I see them struggling with something, point their eyes towards Christ. Of course, I want to have this spirit with my whole class, but I think that zoning in on a few students at a time will help me focus on specific encouragement instead of just general praise.

Also, be warned that if you are determined to please Christ in this area, your flesh is really going to fight you. I sat down on Tuesday to begin drafting this post after hearing a wonderful sermon on it. I was excited about using my speech to really minister grace to my students…and then my flesh began to kick and scream. It decided that it was not going to go down so easily. The very next day (and the rest of this week!) I struggled so much with being patient with my students. I wanted to blame it on the fact that they were just not listening to me…but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was because I have an impatient heart – I want what I want when I want it. My students were getting in the way of what I wanted (quickly getting through our research paper writing unit!) and so my impatient heart just bubbled right up and out my mouth. I failed multiple times and had to ask their forgiveness the next day. And Satan would love to keep us down and defeated at this point…but the Lord reminded me of Prov. 24:16A

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again…

It is not that a righteous person never falls. They fall, but by the grace of God, they get back up and try again. And again. And again…and they seek God’s help every time, knowing that they will continue to fall when they are depending on their own strength.

May God help us all to speak grace to our students!

 

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